Tracy Foster founded her New York-based bag line ONA a little over five years ago because she saw a lack of fashionable camera bag options. It has since expanded its products from gear strictly for shutterbugs to a broader collection of great looking and performing leather and canvas options for guys and gals on the go. The brand’s marketing director, Mark Chou, recently provided a snapshot of this increasingly popular and growing bag maker….
What is the background and history of ONA?
Historically, camera bag brands have been very functional, but you wouldn’t want to carry them around on a daily basis because they’re rather boring and also broadcast that you are carrying pricey camera gear while traveling. What happens (and what happened to Tracy) was that oftentimes folks will simply take a regular messenger or purse and try to pad the bottom with a towel – not an elegant solution.ONA was created to provide rugged and functional camera bags that were also very stylish and would fit in just as easily on a photo shoot as they would in the boardroom.
But you have since expanded from just camera bags…
The camera bag product and the photographer customer were very much the initial core focus of our company, and those photographers have really driven the company’s success for the past five+ years. But 2015 marked an inflection point for ONA, as far as the scope of the customer we are targeting. For example, our product photography now portrays our bags stuffed to the brim with non-camera gear (laptops, magazines, headphones, etc.) as well as with camera gear, to ensure that any visitor knows that our bags are dual-purpose.
Second, we are creating bags specifically outside of the camera bag product range but that are still very much oriented to the creative and entrepreneurial lifestyle. That focus leverages our historical roots in the photography space but also opens up a larger opportunity far beyond photography.
What is the overall aesthetic of the brand?
What we are best known for is rugged and masculine messengers and backpacks in heavy duty waxed canvas and full-grain leather. Our most popular colorway is our antique cognac leather, which develops a great patina over time and weathers very well. While many of our bags are used in an urban context, many of our customers in the Pacific Northwest also find that our bags are perfect for the outdoors.
What is the price range?
For the small bags we start at the $139 range and go all the way up to $589, but the typical bag is in the $250-$350 range. We are sold online at onabags.com and at over 200 retail partners worldwide, which are listed on our website.
Where does the name come from?
The word ona in Swahili means “to feel,” “to believe” and “to experience with the eyes.” From our perspective, this is the essence of photography and style, and is a nod to our heritage as a brand for photographers.
Who the ONA customer?
Our typical customer would be twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings in the creative and entrepreneurial fields. It’s folks who value quality, construction and handcrafted products and who are willing to pay more to ensure that they have a quality product. These are the folks who value the ethos of “buy well, buy once.”
What are some of your key pieces?
Our Brixton Messenger bag is a 13” messenger bag that fits all of your daily necessities or even things for a daytrip. It’s perfect as a camera bag but also great for anyone who just needs a well-crafted messenger bag. We’ve also created an 11” and a 15” laptop messenger bags as well, and all of our messenger bags come in multiple leather and waxed canvas colorways. I’d also mention our Kingston briefcase, which is also a great daily bag with a slimmer profile. It’s the perfect briefcase for the guy on the go. We also do collaborations with brands at the top of their respective industries from Leica Camera and Sony to Swarovski Optik.
You have a big presence on social media…
We are very much a customer-first sort of brand. Whether you find us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, we are always very responsive and pride ourselves on how responsive we are to folks. And on the flip side, it is very gratifying to see how proud folks are of their ONA bags and I think that really comes through with how much they share on social media. Instagram is our highest-engaging platform, which is not surprising since it’s photography-focused, and our feed features the crème de la crème of photos that our customers take of our bags.
What sets ONA apart?
At the core of what makes a camera bag a camera bag is the element of organization. So there is the organizational element and the protection of the gear inside. Those are things features that are valued not just by photographers but by folks in general, which is why we’ve seen people gravitate towards our bags even if they are not photographers. The internal organization of our bags has maximum flexibility and customizability. We feature provide dividers that you can customize however you want and our bags feature cushioning the highest quality closed-cell foam to protect your gear during your daily commute.
Finally, our bags are crafted with maximum quality and longevity in mind. Our canvas is the highest quality canvas you can source from one of the oldest manufacturers in America, and our leather is all full-grain and the vast majority of it is Italian. And our hardware is all solid brass. Using the best of materials is very much at the core of what we do. While there are many brands that will try and get away with sub-par materials, we really believe in the idea of buying one of our bags or briefcases to last you the rest of your life – one that you’ll never need to replace.